The question some might be pondering going into Peter Segal’s latest movie, about two boxers ending their three decade retirement to settle an epic sporting feud, may be “But, if I wanted to see a couple of pensioners beat the botox out of each other surely just placing the winning bingo slip onto the floor of an LA retirement home would more than suffice?” While this elaborately phrased rhetorical question may indeed be an accurate description of the films final showdown surely you wouldn’t want to miss out on its finer selling points i.e. the gently predictable comedy, Stallone’s “I just pooped a little face” when trying to conjure up any emotion more strenuous than mild confusion and montages more arthritic than a one shot film of your grandparents constructing Ikea furniture. Its fair to say Rocky is back in business #YouSlyDog.
Stallone is a revelation, testing new waters and stretching himself to his thespian limit, as Henry “Razor” Sharp an um… past his prime boxer on the comeback trail. Pumped full of what appears to be bull hormones and preserving salts Sly delivers speech after spine tingling speech, philosophizing on unrequited personal glory, lost love and finding himself with all the emotional range and conviction of an extra in a toothpaste ad. So while Stallone may still be ploddingly, plying his trade, the supporting cast are universally solid and enthusiastic with one of the true greats on a return to form in his opposing corner.
De Niro sporting a physique reminiscent of Monsters inc.’s Mike Wizowski and the athleticism of a diabetic walrus appears to be having a great time as Billy “The Kid” McDonnen with much of the films, if not all, its success being owed to the pudgy pugilist. With the occasional face creasing smile or brilliant bout of comedy improv the Bobby D of old shines through and Jon Bernathal is perfectly cast as his estranged son with a matching broken nose and wry sense of humor, while the grandson will have you cracking up and wanting to eat your own face in equal measure with his unintentionally hilarious and simultaneously infuriating dialogue delivery.
Kevin Hart, brimming with more energy than a labrador puppy on speed, is wise cracking fun as the duos sleazy yet lovable promoter although his decidedly one track comedy does start to grate after the fifteenth “White people?! Am’I’Rite!” joke. However the rapport between him and Alan Arkin’s urine soaked boxing coach remains chuckle inducing throughout.
Like Harts comedy originality isn’t Grudge Match’s strong suit as every available cliche is shoehorned in to swell the running time from it’s rightful duration as a 5 minute SNL skit to a creaking 2 hour bout of Stallone self-parody. The direction is equally uninspired, aside from a surprisingly exciting final fight sequence; in which rapid fire editing is used to great effect, cutting after single punches to create a sense of momentum and drama as well as to disguise the tea and Cash in the Attic breaks that clearly ensued.
Grudge Match draws a number of parallels with Project X. In terms of shit-tasticness and star rating conundrums that is, you’ll find no topless bouncy castle montage here (cut out due to age restrictions and a member of the test audience feinting in the pre-screening). While “X” targeted teens looking for cinematic wish fulfillment Grudge Match shamelessly panders to the nostalgia fueled older crowd searching for one last hurrah with their onscreen heroes. But uber-derivative cash grab or not I had a great time watching my two on screen heroes lay into each other like a pair of wrinkly windmills. So if, like myself, you go in with ankle level expectations and an innate fondness for Stallone’s weatherbeaten steak of a face you will too.